Women-y Bits in Action Movies: Irreparable Harm

Trigger Warnings: Feminism, Sarcasm, Social Justice

Hey, it’s time for dude derision! A couple of days ago the trailer for the Ghostbusters reboot was released and unleashed a wave of anger, sorrow, and reportedly flaccid penises among the U.S.A.’s most vocal minority, Insecure White Men. The new movie’s four female leads, which do not even include any bikini babes, in lieu of the 1986 all-male line-up have left the MRA contingent weeping tears of impotent rage.

A masterpiece forever ruined...
A masterpiece forever ruined…
... by this desecration.
… by this desecration.

This is not the first time in recent years that a cinema classic has been completely stricken from loving memories after a sequel or remake made the original completely unwatchable. There is too little attention paid to this phenomenon, which has left the lives of too many IWMs joyless and tragic. How can true fans find any satisfaction in re-watching these classics, knowing that out there someone is enjoying a different version?

But the harm is far more insidious. These are not, in fact, merely different takes on the fictional universes so savaged: they represent visions unapproved by IWMs. Please take a moment to consider the pain of a self-respecting dude, a real man, a genuine bro forced to see headlines, images, friends’ Facebook statuses and perhaps even entire minutes of movie trailers containing fully-dressed, normally proportioned female characters with speaking parts. And not only that, but the lack of a strong central white man as the focus of the plot, which may irretrievably shatter fragile IWM psyches.

Even when male actors are given a heroic title role, as in last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the damage done is considerable.

Can we ever enjoy this again...
Can we ever enjoy this again…
.. while millions are watching this?
.. while millions are watching this?

Sure, a white man may have the title role, but is it even worth it if he is forced to exchange lines of dialogue with women as if on equal footing? If we are forced to consider women’s points of view? The mere fact that he had to go through this ordeal somehow robs us of all satisfaction when the woman actually agrees with the man’s arguments.

And those who suggest that IWMs simply not watch forget once again that this does not address the problem: these offensive movies would still exist.

It’s not just about women given *shudder* major roles either: while the two examples above generally steer clear of this additional outrage, sometimes these remakes and sequels have also included people of color in speaking parts other than criminal, victim, or enabler.

No more can we savour this..
No more can we savour this..
Doing the unthinkable -- twice.
… with vandals doing the unthinkable — twice.

But IWMs remember that the Star Wars universe never had people of colour before (or women), just like Mad Max’s barren wasteland was never polluted by strong female protagonists.

Figments of your imagination. Never happened.
Figments of your imagination. Never happened.

And it’s not just among main characters either; while a brodude can be generous and tolerate your occasional chick, usually a cool girl, and the token minority, perfidious SJWs have made incursions among supporting cast in disruptive ways. Sure, it’s fine to have women and visible minorities in support roles — but they should be just that, supportive. Not all, you know, assertive and threatening. How can stormtrooopers be feared and respected throughout the galaxy if units can be led by women?

This...
This…
Not this!
Not this! Where is the strength, the leadership, the action?

Mark my words, this undermining of everything that makes action movies cool and exciting was foreshadowed by so-called “fan works” years ago.

Can you see the difference between Troops...
Can you see the difference between the manly Troops…
... and the girly stormtroopers in the later IMPS: The Relentless?
… and the girly stormtroopers in the later IMPS: The Relentless?

Hell in a handbasket, gentlemen. That’s where this is all going. Action movies are dying.

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Geek Women: A Short Ramble

Image copyright Kate BeatonI just noticed that my Geek Gals circle on Google+ has grown to 328 names, primarily met through common gaming interests but also reading, movies, and tech.

At the role-playing game table, women are often in the majority and rarely represent less than 40% of the group.  My husband has often found himself the only man at the table.

On my long work commute on public transit, women represent approximately 60% of the riders, and most of them are gaming on a phone or tablet to pass the time.  I often see well-dressed business women killing aliens, zombies or orcs on the way to work—but even more often from work…

(Because at works, it often sucks.  My company, for example: the only way to get promoted is to be an old white man.  I have seen many a young woman give up on the degrees she had earned and the tech career she had worked for to go do something else where it was easier to pay the bills.)

I guess this is also a good time to thank some of the wonderful people—of all genders—in the gaming hobby and other geeky pursuits that have worked hard to promote diversity in all forms.  Thank you, my many friends, for opening publishing, conventions, game design, etc. to become more like the diverse world I see around me and less like a gated community.


Credits: The image of the New Woman is from the wonderful Kate Beaton, of Hark! A Vagrant fame.

I stand with Planned Parenthood, in mourning

I-standCan you imagine?  When I show up at my work place, I’m worried about how the company is going to stiff me again today.  When workers of women’s health clinics show up for work, they’re worried about whether someone will try to kill them.  And patients!  You go to the clinic to help make your life better or at least keep it from getting worse — and now you have to weigh whether this means being taken hostage or gunned down.

Responding to my adoring audience

D716IWCLegalAbortion1977My previous post explained why I stand with Planned Parenthood on Pink Out Day, so naturally it had to attract ridiculously offensive comments from people who have never read anything I’ve ever written, including that particular post.  My initial reaction was, of course, to hit the delete button.  But I’m feeling in a pillory mode, so instead I will post the comment in its entirety, unaltered, and then I will respond.  Because sometimes all you can do with a dog that pees on the carpet is roll up a newspaper.

Mary

The commenter wishes to be called “Mary” — this is not private information since it would have appeared with the comment if I had approved this submittal. Of course, I believe in calling people what they want to be called (except for Republican politicians who want to be called “President,” right now I’m very much against that.)  But to be honest with you, when I read Mary’s post I see the weird old guy with a bazillion surreal signs, religious tracts, and plastic Virgin statues like lawn gnomes who’s always hanging out in front of the local PP clinic.  Let’s call him “Mary”, shall we?

The author of the comment uses an email associated with a church volunteer in a Midwestern state, itself accompanied by a phone number from Cheyenne, Wyoming; the full name associated with this information is common to 19 white pages listing in the church’s Midwestern state, most of them elderly, and several of them recently dead; and the comment was posted from a mobile IP registered in a different Midwestern state.  So really, this could be a prank, a real person, a pseudonym, an identity theft, etc.

Here is what Mary had to say to me:

Do not trust birth control handed out by a company that makes its money off conception. Do not trust anyone who thinks your baby is better off dead. Do not trust people who will slice your baby into the most valuable cuts and sell them. Do not trust a business that must do a certain # of abortions to provide pay checks to its workers. PP sees us coming and sees $ signs. Factory farming of women and children. Livestock. Planned Parenthood cares about women and children the way farmers care about breeder sows and piglets. Wrap all this gut-sucking and baby mutilation all up in pink to look innocent and good? No- just bloody.

All righty, Mary.  This is going to take some unpacking; there is so much rolled up together.

The Medium is the Message

Let’s break this down in smaller bites so we can fully appreciate it.

Do not trust birth control handed out by a company that makes its money off conception.

Nice start!  You’re saying that Planned Parenthood is doing what, giving fake contraceptives? Is that what you’re saying? Because I can tell you, the stuff comes in the manufacturer’s wrapping, all sealed. You’re so desperate, you won’t even cite a third-hand anecdote to back this up?

Do not trust anyone who thinks your baby is better off dead.

What baby?  The live babies I saw going in there were cared for — all too often for free since the parents are only there because they have no health coverage.  Oh, you mean the small mass of non-viable cells I might decide to have removed from my uterus before it becomes a real baby that I would be unable to care for?  That baby?  Mary, it’s as much a baby at that point as a pinecone is a tree.  Even a really nifty pinecone is not a tree. An egg, even a fertilized egg, is not a chicken.

Do not trust people who will slice your baby into the most valuable cuts and sell them.

You don’t have a whole lot of familiarity with your topic, do you?  What is it you picture, a rosy ham carved spiral-style?  If you mean stem cell culture, we’re talking about getting a few cells from the egg or the pinecone — or in this case, the tiny blob of reddish jelly, to grow them on glorified agar plates. It’s too small to slice, see? Also too small to be a human being, let alone a viable one.

Do not trust a business that must do a certain # of abortions to provide pay checks to its workers. PP sees us coming and sees $ signs.

Oh, you betcha!  That sweet, sweet reproductive health care cash!  All those Benjamins they collect from, uh, giving away medical examinations, classes, laboratory testing, vaccinations (oh wait, that’s evil too, isn’t it?), contraceptives, and referrals to battered women’s shelters.  Boy, they sure are rolling in it, as I can readily see every time I go in there.  That 1970s office furniture — don’t let the looks fool you, you can’t get that stuff for love or money these days!  Priceless antiques!  The jobs at 60% of what the health care workers would be making in private practice?  It’s a cover!  All that money is ferried to the Cayman Islands on steamers entirely powered by the combustion of baby corpses.

Factory farming of women and children. Livestock. Planned Parenthood cares about women and children the way farmers care about breeder sows and piglets.

Unlike, say, religious people who think sex should only be for conception, and women should be at home producing children.  People who think abortion should be outlawed even in cases of pregnancies that put the mother’s life at immediate risk, or force her to carry for weeks a fetus that is non-viable, or even already dead. Totally.

Wrap all this gut-sucking and baby mutilation all up in pink to look innocent and good? No- just bloody.

Ooooh! Was this an attempt at allegory?  Alas, what you gave us was bathos instead.

Reading is Fundamental

I do love how this paragraph, this collection of non sequitur, was thrown like a plateful of noodle (rAmen!) at the wall to see what would stick, but really had nothing to say about my post.  It had to do with the words “Planned Parenthood”, not with anything else I had written.  Mary, if that’s all you get from your readings, I recommend Twitter; it will be less effort for you.  Heck, I’d like to make your life easier, you seem like you can use a break.  Why don’t I just give you some writing prompts for the next writer’s block:

  • Sex education
  • Social justice
  • Wage parity
  • Single-payer health care
  • Marriage equality
  • Free child care and preschools
  • Maternity and paternity leaves
  • Access to contraception
  • STD screenings
  • Recreational sex
  • Teaching consent
  • Secular humanism
  • Living wage

Just pick whatever frightens you most, and write me another essay.

I will leave you with a reading assignment: The Horrifying Reality of Abortion Before It Was Legal in America.

Edit: And here is the follow-up reading assignment: Real stories of late-term abortions.


Credits: Photo by Dorothy Marder, taken at the International Women Year National Conference, Houston, Texas, November 18-21, 1977

Pink Out! I stand with Planned Parenthood

pink-outTomorrow (September 29) it’s Pink Out Day in support of Planned Parenthood.

First, let me tell you why I stand with Planned Parenthood, using two excerpts from my journal, just over three years ago when I had no health insurance and was unemployed and flat broke. The people I described were the ones I saw and spoke to, not conceptual entities.

June 18, 2012

Thank you, Planned Parenthood. You were there for me many years ago when I was a penniless student, and you’re here for me again when I am unemployed and have no insurance. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m glad a regularly donated when I was employed, and I will again when I am employed anew.

Right-wingnuts: fuck off and die. You’re not doing a damn thing to help me, or anyone else who was in that waiting room: the mother with two infants, the menopausal lady worried about her surging cholesterol, the happy, giggling expectant young couple, the two young women there to get their first birth control prescriptions, etc.

June 25, 2012

I went back to Planned Parenthood for my follow-up today. I don’t know if I’m just lucky, but everyone is always incredibly nice and helpful to me in PP clinics (well, the two I’ve ever visited.)

I tend to think that it’s not luck, that it takes a special kind of people to work there with the crazies picketing every day and probably paid less than in private clinics. Many of the people I speak to have worked there forever and a half, so it’s not like they just jump on the first chance to work at a safer, more posh place.

And it nags me, bugs me, burns me to think that these incredibly nice people who help me are placing themselves at risk, that there is a very real possibility of a nutcase harming them for helping me. That’s fucked up.

That’s right: Planned Parenthood charged me nothing for the health services it provided. And yes, as soon as I had a regular income again, I resumed donations so others could benefit.

Now for some tips on showing support (besides the obvious, donating to Planned Parenthood):

5 Ways You Can #PinkOut

I-standOn September 29th to show your support for women’s health and for Planned Parenthood

  1. WEAR PINK on September 29th. Get a #StandwithPP pink t-shirt from the store.
  2. Pink Out your Facebook and/or Twitter profile image
  3. Attend a Pink Out Event near you. Can’t attend or not near a rally city? RSVP to the Facebook event for updates.
  4. Join the #PinkOut Thunderclap
  5. Share a #PinkOut selfie to #StandwithPP on social media

On Abortion

While the vast majority of services provided at Planned Parenthood are not related to abortion, I don’t want to dodge the issue. I’ve seen a lot of outrage about right-wingers who refuse to compromise on abortion even for special cases.  You know what? When they say that they’re against abortion in all cases, even rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother — that works for me, in a weird way. Abortion is legal, there are very good reasons to keep it legal, and I don’t want to see it chipped away by downgrading it to only special cases deserving the protection of the law.

Let’s recognize right now that we need not make apologies: no one is is suggesting that abortion is a fun thing, something every woman should try at least once, or something we should have punch-cards for (“Buy ten, get one free!”) Having to have an abortion sucks enough as it is — heck, having to consider whether to have an abortion sucks enough, that we need not make apologies for having a legal procedure when we, the persons who are having to make the individual decision, find it necessary.

Downgrading abortion from a right to a conditional procedure you have to get special dispensation for only opens the way to have access to contraception restricted in the same way.  We’ve had plenty of evidence recently, from right-wingers’ opposition to sex education in schools, to framing their attempts at restricting contraception through health insurance plans as a religious freedom issue.

And Violence

I mentioned in my old journal posts that the people helping me were putting themselves at risk.  Although I did not see any sign of violence, every time I have been to that clinic I have seen a fanatical picketer, a man bringing his entire collection of signs, religious paraphernalia, threats disguised as predictions, and so forth (and there have been more visits, both before and after the ones that prompted my journal entries).  Imagine being intimidated every day, every time you go in and out of your place of work!

The Joys of Hosting Role-Playing Games

FAE: at the game table
On Google+ this week, Larry Spiel asked:

Why don’t we see more women gamemasters? […] In both my gaming at home and at conventions I have seen genders getting closer to even, but most of the games that have GMs still see the men more likely to fill those roles.  I’d like to see more women doing it.

He went on to ask about possible deterrents and roadblocks, and ideas for encouraging more women into the role, focusing on presence at conventions. This was a public thread, so everyone should be able to view it and, if they have a G+ account, to comment.

Because the first several posts were from men, I didn’t initially feel like chiming in but then John Stavropoulos re-shared the question privately to his circles and, for those who wanted to answer, established some ground rules requiring that men listen in only and women be the ones to answer. That conversation took off beautifully. And after Kira Magrann re-posted her answer to the original thread, several of us decided to contribute there as well, so it got better in terms of target respondents, but John’s protected thread out-commented it by four to one. And a variety of interesting additional threads sprung from this on ways of encouraging people who are not the usual suspects to try game-mastering. One was a a series of “Why do I GM?” posts where people described what they get out of the role.

Anyhow, I decided that between all of these threads I had written enough to consolidate this as a blog post.

Obstacles

I started gaming in 1983 when I was a fresh(wo)man in engineering school. I was used to seeing 2 to 4 men for every woman in all my classes, so gaming was just an extension of this (it was at an official university club.) I started GMing a year or two later, taking turns with the rest of my gaming group. I didn’t go to a convention until 1994 or so, but again I started running games at conventions the following year. I married a gamer (so we’d always have a GM in our house), in fact the very one responsible for my early conventions fun. In 2006 we started organizing game day events and working as staff on conventions. We still do.

All this to say I’m a childless older woman, with a long habit of the milieu, attending with an ally at my side, in metropolitan West Coast areas (Seattle and San Francisco Bay) where there is a big pool of gamers. That makes everything so much easier. There are many challenges on the path, but here are the top three from my perspective.

Barrier No. 1: The Jerk Factor. For me GMing was always easier for friends than strangers; I wager that is true for most GMs regardless of gender. But as many commenters pointed out, it’s worse for women because a lot of people talk over women or address only men (yes, “people” because it’s true that I’ve met one or two women who did this, but they’ve been rare). In my early years, I looked for gamers and hoped they would become friends; but eventually I decided that I had it backwards. Now I invite nice people because I think we can be friends and I hope we can game.

At conventions, though, you take the luck of the draw. Fortunately, I usually have my husband and several friends around, that offers some social scaffolding even if they’re not playing in my game. But just like you can pick the gamers in your regular group, if you’re in a good gamer area like I am, you can pick the conventions that are most likely to be women-friendly. Do they have a policy on harassment? Alcohol? Emergencies? Giving back to the community? etc.

In my experience, smaller conventions with an indie/story/hippie game and community focus (like Go Play, Nerdly, Good Omens, Big Bad Con) have a higher quality of staff, game-masters and players. They may sometimes be tone-deaf just like any other, but your odds are better.

Barrier No. 2: Family + Money. I’ve noticed when we organized free family-friendly game days, we got entire families and near numbers parity between men and women (forgive me if I don’t have clearer gender breakdown here.) But when I worked on staff for the regular, weekend-long conventions that charge a fee, I saw mostly the males of the species. When I had a chance to talk to some of the people I kept seeing, I asked and the women all told me they could afford neither the time nor the money for both to attend so the ladies largely stayed at home with the kids or at best bought only a day-pass.

Barrier No. 3: Exhaustion. When mothers DO show up at a convention, this is their weekend to relax and have fun. They haven’t had time to prepare a scenario, and they don’t feel like playing hostess to a bunch of ingrates; they want to play some nice escapist fantasy, by gum! As others have pointed out above, acting as GM has an awful lot in common with traditional women’s roles; in fact, I’ve said on occasion that three quarters of what I know about GMing boils down to what my mom would call “being a good host.” So when you’re tired and want your gaming fix, this may sound like work, not fun.

What to Do?

Some ideas for encouraging GMs among those who are not the usual suspects:

  • Establish and post a zero-tolerance policy on harassment. There are good models online.
  • During the year, form a local club and encourage new games and new GMs.  (I once wrote a wiki entry on how to do this on RPG.net.)
  • For the convention, recruit GMs personally, by invitation.
  • Organize a women-only workshop event (best if actually organized by women.)
  • Invite women GMs as panellists and ask them to share tips, to talk about why they do this and why it’s fun for them.
  • Have a special “merit badge” or other trinket for women who sign up to GM a game. (I love collecting buttons or ribbons at conventions!)
  • If you have a newsletter, social media page, podcast, or website which you use to publicize your event, invite women (and non-binary, non-white, disabled, etc.) gamers to write or talk about the hobby and the event.
  • Ask all the women gamers you can find in your area to ping their women gamer friends. (While you’re at it, ask them about their previous experiences at local conventions, and whether there are known problem-gamers that haunt the circuit…)
  • Make it easy for couples and families to attend: discount, day care, kids’ events, etc.

One of the spin-off threads resulted in Emily Care Boss creating a site called Our Many Games where people can post useful starter kits and convention playsets to make the GM’s job easier while showcasing “games have been created by people of color, women of all ethnicities, people with disabilities, trans folk, queer creators and other people from under-represented groups.”

At Tony Lower-Basch’s suggestion, she also started a Google+ community to promote these same games and provide resources for convention organizers to include more of them on the roster.

Why do I GM?

  • Because a game catches my eye and my brain and won’t let go.
  • Because I love to see the magic happening at the table, when we get together to create a story never read or seen before.
  • Because I love to introduce new gamers to the hobby.
  • Because I love giving back to my gaming group so other GMs can have a turn at playing.
  • Because I love giving back to my community by helping make conventions a success.
  • Because nothing is more exciting than hosting a game for a group of enthusiastic, creative, and generous people. (Generous because it’s best when everyone is trying to make others shine.)

Sure, I still get the jitters. I run events at every convention I attend but to this day, I’m still nervous before every game, especially the first of the weekend — something I know also happens to many of my male friends who GM. But by now I know things generally go better than I think they will, and I can accept the occasional “Meh” game without completely destroying myself over it.

I love this hobby and I want more people to get good experiences with it, whether as new players or new game-masters.


Credits: The top picture is an illustration by Claudia Cangini for Evil Hat Productions’ FATE Accelerated.

 

Advent Day 21: Prophet

Advent Day 21: Prophet (Elizabeth Cady Stanton)

Today’s topic is “Prophet.”

What exactly does that mean? Wikipedia opines: “In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people.”  Well, shoot, that leaves me nowhere: I’ve more chance of seeing a unicorn than a prophet.

We also use the word in daily language to mean a visionary, someone who accurately predicts things to come. But Wikipedia has one more thing to say, and it’s more useful to me: The English word prophet comes from the Greek word προφήτης (profétés) meaning advocate.”

So here is my prophet: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 19th century advocate of the women’s right movement and abolitionism.

[W]e declare our faith in the principles of self-government; our full equality with man in natural rights; that woman was made first for her own happiness, with the absolute right to herself—to all the opportunities and advantages life affords, for her complete development; and we deny that dogma of the centuries, incorporated in the codes of all nations—that woman was made for man—her best interests, in all cases, to be sacrificed to his will.

—Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage Association, July 4th, 1876.

I deliberately picked a photo showing Stanton as an older woman, because older women—no longer sexually desirable—get the least respect to this day in our society.

Princess Culture Wars

Hey, what do you know, it’s time for the annual intersection of culture, consumerism, privilege, gender, guilt, and opinions, accompanied by an orchestra of commercial jingles, cash register rings, and Salvation Army bells. I’ve already seen several articles and blog posts arguing about the evils and redeeming features of various toys, as little symbols and child-size servings of our societal dysfunctions.

Barbie-02It’s a rich mine for (self-)reflection. Today’s topic: princess culture, and parental guilt. Our symbol and meditation focus: Mattel’s “Walk Lively Miss America” Barbie doll, 1972. Because, you see, my mother had sworn never to get me a Barbie doll. Barbie was both tool and symbol of cultural oppression. But if my grandma (mom’s own mom) got the memo, she didn’t care; so for Christmas 1972 Miss America was under the Christmas tree, waiting for me.

My parents were of a generation full of hope that our world would march forward and come to its senses. Wealth could be spread more justly, gender and race inequalities had no basis in reason and logic, we had the technology to provide a better life for everyone around the globe so surely we would roll up our sleeves and do it. They most definitely weren’t hippies, mind you: they were mentally built around principles of  work ethic, personal responsibility, and fairness. They were both the eldest children of their respective families, and in turn I was their first child, so there was always this sense of having to set an example.

They raised me and my siblings to believe utterly and completely in equality. Not “Women are people too,” not “Brown-skinned folks are people too,” etc. but the kind of complete, innate equality of fact that only gets highlighted much later when you start encountering people for who this is a startling concept. And they were very careful never to dress us in gender-assigned colours (they mostly dressed me in blue because they felt it brought out my eyes) or gender-assigned toys (I got dolls and Legos, stuffed animals and toy trucks, etc.)

There was no way I was going to get a Barbie doll, and in fact I only had the vaguest idea what one looked like, from the commercials during my carefully rationed hours of television. As an additional character flaw, Barbie was American and my parents were very concerned with cultural imperialism.

Then grandma had to give me one, and all their efforts were for naught. Once you have Barbie, you need accessories, right? And my grandparents, uncles, and aunts kept them coming: Barbie’s beauty salon, Barbie’s Corvette, Barbie’s clothes, plus of course Barbie dolls for my little sister. Mom was clearly gritting her teeth and felt like a failure.

Except it all worked out somehow.  I had no idea who or what Miss America was (cultural imperialism!) so I thought that was the doll’s name. Barbie is not a name in French and it sounded stupid to me, it never occured to me that it could be anything but a brand like “Mattel.” Therefore, my doll was called Miss Susan America.

She had a crown on her head so she must be a queen, and of course having read tons of fairy tales, I knew that queen or princess were the best thing you should aspire to be. Princes and kings were pretty boring, they mostly showed up at the end but princesses and queens had stories!  So crown → queen → ruler of a nation. There had to be a nation. Which was promptly name the Island of Barbicia, neatly explaining the weird name.

But wait! Even at age seven, I had already absorbed way more of my parents’ values than they probably realized. I was already a firm believer in democracy, so the queen of Barbicia had to be rightfully elected. Just had to be. Every year. My sister’s dolls represented the opposition, and eventually we had to get her an island of her own to rule, because ever year somehow Barbicia re-elected Queen Susan.

Barbie-01In tangible terms, she didn’t keep that crown stitched on her head for very long. I had to remove it, as it interfered with the rest of her garb — like when I made a spacesuit out of leftovers of silver lamé. To go with the flying saucer made of family-size take-out pizza plates. I did a lot of arts and craft projects for Queen Susan: not only did I learn to sew and replicate the year’s fashions from catalogues, but also build furniture and houses.

Using end pieces of 2x4s and surveyor’s stakes which I joined together using 1½” nails, or dad’s power stapler or glue gun, I created a, shall we say, rustic decor—everything from tables and chairs to beds, sofas, lamps, and coat racks that seem to come from the world ugliest Ikea.  I built an entire ranch out of cardboard file cabinets, the kind you use for temporary field offices. Because of course by then Queen Susan and her friends had horses.

At the end of her career, Queen Susan found another monarchy to be elected to: by 1978, we were in the Star Wars craze and my little sister desperately wanted SW action figures for her birthday and Christmas. I couldn’t afford them on my allowance, but by then I was well used to making presents from scratch; I made an R2-D2 model with an empty tin can as the starting point, I recycled a 12″ Iroquois action figure to  make Darth Vader (did a pretty darn good job on that mask and the clothes, if I do say so myself), and Queen Susan was re-dressed and coiffed to impersonate Princess Leia Organa. By then I was too old to play with dolls anyway at 13… My little sister’s friends were all jealous of her custom action figures.

My point with this ramble?

My parents didn’t fail to give me pride and self-confidence just because I played with a Barbie doll and pretended to be a princess. They were worried at first (after all, I was their first attempt at parenting…) but I think they soon realized that they had given me plenty of other things to fill my world. Playing with dolls was actually an opportunity to learn to make a lot of things myself, and I had lovely times asking mom about the secrets of sewing properly, and spending time with dad in his workshop.

Don’t worry if your kids naively embrace the stereotypes they are force-fed by the media. Just give them lots of other things to go with that, talk to them about the values you hold dear, and watch them make magic out of the world.

Neuromancer: Let’s Hear It for the Girls

Brigitte Helm during the filming of "Metropolis"

Since I could not make up my mind as to which topic interested me more, here is a second essay on the June book for my reading group, William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls

In his stories set in the Sprawl, Gibson uses several recurring characters; the most emblematic is arguably Molly Millions, also known as Sally Shears, Rose Kolodny, Steppin’ Razor, Cat Mother, etc.  This deadly cyborg and free agent first appeared in the 1981 short story “Johnny Mnemonic” and would go on to be a central character in the novels Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive.  Because she is tough and dangerous, and because she features prominently in the stories, an initial reaction was to dub Gibson’s fiction post-feminist.

This evoked disagreement, and a number of authors [1, 2, 3, 4, 5  as mere examples] pointed out ways in which Molly and the more vulnerable Linda Lee’s characters fit with a traditional patriarchal mindset common in the literature that inspired it, such as science fiction and hard-boiled detective tales.  These are valid ways of examining the characters, but I would argue that we should not miss the forest for the tree. Continue reading “Neuromancer: Let’s Hear It for the Girls”

Men are from Mars, Women are from Herland

Amazons

The Week 7 reading assignments for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World were Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

Both books are ostensibly about discovering mythical civilizations, although Burroughs’ is a straight-up tale of action while Gilman’s uses the trappings of the genre and gentle irony to develop what reads more as a philosophical manifesto with a light sprinkling of adventure.  I am not a fan of Burroughs’ writing style, which I find pompous and awkward (though to be fair, this was his first published fiction), and Gilman’s book was too long with too much exposition.  All in all, not a great reading week.

Here is my 300-word essay.  Continue reading “Men are from Mars, Women are from Herland”